Trying to 'get out from the shadow of Katrina,' New Orleans Armstrong airport's 2014 passenger count topped pre-storm level _lowres

Advocate file photo by JOHN MCCUSKER -- Passengers line up for flights at Louis Armstrong International Airport after last summer's Essence Festival.

Louis Armstrong International Airport exceeded its pre-Hurricane Katrina passenger numbers for the first time last year, airport officials said Friday.

About 9,785,000 people flew through the airport in 2014, roughly 50,000 more passengers than in 2004, according to year-end statistics.

“We’ve very excited about this,” Director of Aviation Iftikar Ahmad said. “We’ve been trying to get out from the shadow of Katrina. This is a psychological milestone, and it was extremely important to our team to get there as fast as we could.”

The 2014 numbers represent a 6.3 percent increase over the number of passengers in 2013.

The increased traffic comes from a larger number of tourists coming to the city and a population that has nearly returned to its pre-Katrina levels, Ahmad said. At the same time, studies have found an increase in the number of high-earning residents who have the wherewithal to travel, he said.

The airport also has worked to reduce the fees it charges airlines so as to encourage them to bring in more flights, Ahmad said.

The 2014 numbers are just shy of the record set in 2000 of about 9.8 million passengers, airport officials said.

“We missed it just by a bit. Hopefully this year we will do the all-time record,” Ahmad said.

There’s a good chance of that happening. There will be 650,000 more seats available flying into or out of New Orleans this year, a 10.6 percent increase over 2014, Ahmad said. While it’s uncertain how many of those seats will be filled, the airlines traditionally have sold 80 percent of the available seats, he said.

The airport now offers nonstop flights to 45 destinations, the largest number in its history, on 13 airlines, according to airport officials.

Those include recently announced flights on Branson Air Express to Cancun, Mexico, and Branson, Missouri; flights to the Midwest and Florida on Allegiant Air; and the addition of other budget carriers.

The New Orleans airport accounts for more than 80 percent of the air traffic in the state.

“Our city is breaking records in many different facets,” City Councilman Jared Brossett, who chairs the council’s Transportation and Aviation Committee, said in a news release. “The airport continues to be a driving force for this region, and we look forward to breaking more records in 2015.”

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